Friday, September 14, 2007

Mind the gap

If you recall my football predictions I felt that Maryland would probably post a 6-6 record this season. So I'm not all that surprised that the Terrapins got blown out by 4th ranked West Virginia last night. I know many Maryland fans felt like this team was capable of bigger things than the 9-4 squad from last year but the truth is this team isn't as talented as the fans think.

There was an obvious talent gap between the two teams last night. This gap was only at two positions: quarterback and running back. Now, those are two pretty critical positions. For the most part the rest of the teams were even or slightly in Maryland's favor. Ralph Friedgen has not been able to recruit those kinds of impact players at running back or QB since he has arrived in College Park. We all know the story about Steve Slaton at this point and I really don't blame Fridge for that mistake. In hindsight it looks bad, but no one, not recruiting services or even the staff at West Virginia, knew how good he was going to be in college. The lack of elite players at those positions has been a large part of the reason Maryland hasn't been able to compete against the highly ranked teams it has played.

I'm not criticizing Friedgen's recruiting, which has been decent if not spectacular in my opinion, but it has become apparent that many players have not turned out the way they were expected out of high school. Ralph may have much better athletes than he did when he arrived in 2001 but it doesn't seem like he has better football players in recent years. Jordan Steffy had a shaky outing even after the fumbled first snap. The playcalling, even in the first two cupcake games, seems to imply that the staff is scared to death to put the fate of the team in his hands. He had some nice moments when the play calling got a little more aggressive but also had some real low points. He had some ill advised throws that resulted in interceptions and took some sacks at the end of the game where he should have gotten rid of the football. It is painfully obvious that the duo of Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball are not going to scare many teams. They are both plodding runners who can break a 20-30 yard run with excellent blocking but lack the speed or elusiveness to score on a lightning strike.

Wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey has that kind of talent in abundance but he rarely got the ball. Unless the quarterbacking and playcalling improve his talent will be wasted. The passing game has some decent weapons, probably better than the backfield, but they are not being used much in this dink and dunk version of the offense. Perhaps the coach has the quarterback so scared of making a mistake that he won't take any chances down the field. I'd like to see more Danny Oquendo and Joey Haynos. I don't know what the answer really is at this point.

I do know that a number of things need to improve in a hurry. The punting game was atrocious. Travis Baltz may be a true freshman but he needs to get better in a hurry. The return game was a non-factor on punts or kickoff and isn't doing anything to help the offense with better field position.

The defensive ends need to start making some plays. They got rolled again this year as they did last season in Morgantown. If there isn't much improvement then perhaps guys like Mack Frost should see more time.

Where is the leadership of senior DT Dre Moore? If he has NFL aspirations he needs to raise his game to another level. He wasn't much of a factor at all last night with only 3 tackles.

The middle of the defense has lots of things to work on. JJ Justice and Christian Varner need to make some plays at the safety spots. Varner had what should have been an interception bounce off his hands. Other teams will continue to attack this spot on the defense until these two get aggressive on the ball.

Forget platooning Lance Ball. He is most effective on carries 15-20 after he's had a chance to pound the defense. If you're only going to play him a few series you might as well not even bother. After WVU adjusted at halftime the running lanes dried up and Keon Lattimore wasn't effective any longer with only 31 yards on 10 carries in the 2nd half.

Besides Erin Henderson the other young linebackers didn't distinguish themselves, though they didn't embarrass themselves either.

Maryland has a rough stretch coming up. Unless the offense can really pick up its production 6-6 may be near impossible for this group. Playing close to the vest on offense means this team has no margin of error and they are not good enough to win more than a couple of games with that style. Last season they got lucky and won a slew of close games. They won't be so fortunate this season.

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